Biblical Masculinity

This is the twelfth article released in a series entitled, “Tensions: Navigating Current Issues as a Kingdom Citizen.” This article is by Pastor Mike Gibbons.

It was a touching scene, if not heartrending. Titled “Westward Bound,” the half-page picture in the March 26, 2022, issue of WORLD Magazine showed an elderly couple in a train station. [1] The caption read, “A woman on a train bound for Lviv said goodbye to a man in Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 3.” The woman, standing on the train, was reaching out with her hand to touch the face of the man standing on the ground, while the man kissed her hand goodbye. It was a visual representation of the realities of war and, although rarely noted, the biblical reality of the distinctions between men and women. Almost immediately after Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, all men aged 18-60 years old were ordered to stay in the country. Even without the order, it was primarily husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons that voluntarily picked up arms to defend their country. As the article attached to the picture notes, within two weeks of the invasion it was reported that over two million refugees had left the country, with children making up half of that number.

This observation does not exclude women from being courageous or from showing remarkable heroism as the women of Ukraine are doing. Neither does it denigrate the women in Ukraine who have chosen to pick up arms to defend and protect their country. It does, however, seem to reveal a simple fact about human nature, whether our culture admits it or not – men and women are different. [2] There has been little to no public commentary or controversy over the fact that it is mainly men being asked to fight. There seems to remain an innate recognition of the importance of distinctions and roles between the sexes. Our culture is often dismissive, disdainful, and disparaging of any expression of masculinity or manliness. Yet, at least implicitly, in this time of crisis there seems to be an acknowledgment of an inherent or native masculinity and an inherent or native femininity. God’s created order will always, and eventually, assert itself.

The cultural beliefs of today ask us to willfully ignore these God-given differences between men and women. Many times, they obscure the differences so much that we are even incapable of seeing them. MacArthur Blvd Baptist Church affirms the distinction between the sexes and a recognition of a given masculinity and femininity based on the teaching of Scripture. You can find our statement of belief regarding the complementary roles of men and women here on our website. As followers of Christ, we must conform ourselves to Christ and his Scripture, not the culture and the world. We must work to understand these differences from the perspective of the Bible, especially as it relates to authority and equality. An understanding of what the Bible speaks to in regards to the differences and similarities between the roles of men and women in the church is important as our culture moves to negate any differences at all. This biblical foundation is our best defense against abdicating the differences between male and female. It is also imperative to build an awareness of the abuse of these principles.

As with any of God’s gifts that can be twisted from their original design, the truth that there is a God-given masculinity and femininity can be misapplied and warped. There is a recognition in our statement on complementarianism that sin has distorted God’s original design for gender roles: “According to Genesis 3:16, men will tend toward a domineering and unkind rule over their wives because of the Fall. This verse also teaches that women will have the sinful tendency to usurp their husband’s authority in the home. The opposite distortion of God’s design happens when men become passive, refusing to lead in the church and the home according to their role as head. Women too distort God’s design when they become entirely passive and unengaged in the church and home, acting as mere spectators rather than a ‘joint heir of the grace of life’ (1 Pet. 3:7).” It isn’t just the cultural forces that are strong. The misuse and twisting of the complementary roles of men and women are a part of the fall and of our sin nature. However, a distortion of the practice of complementarianism should not cause us to assume that the principle itself is faulty.

Paraphrasing Martin Luther, human nature is like a drunkard trying to ride a horse. No sooner does he mount the horse before he falls in the ditch on the left side. Remounting, he overcompensates and lands in the ditch on the right side. For some, it is easy to fall into a ditch of authoritarianism and “hyper-headship” where men abuse their authority. Overcompensating, we land in the other ditch of egalitarianism. John Piper describes this idea, “The intention with the word “complementarian” is to locate our way of life between two kinds error: on the one side would be the abuses of women under male domination, and on the other side would be the negation of gender differences where they have beautiful significance.” Understanding the two extremes is important in analyzing how some struggle with complementarianism. Discernment, confession, and repentance are needed to ascertain which ditch we most easily fall into. The truth of headship from Ephesians 5:25 or Colossians 3:18 can be sinfully used to justify domestic oppression and abuse. The truth of Galatians 3:28 can be used to downplay the differences between men and women and God’s plan for leadership in the home and church. We should celebrate the truth of Scripture at the same time we acknowledge the struggles that some may have.

Some struggle with complementarianism convictions because they see them wrongly taught. As an example, complementarianism is misrepresented by those who assert that it teaches that all women must submit to all men. This is not biblical; nowhere in Scripture is there a command, much less the implication, for all women to submit to all men. Peter writes, “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct” (1 Peter 3:1-2). The key word for our purposes here is the word “own” in “your own husbands.” Not someone else’s husband, but your own husband. God does not call wives to submit to all men. This phrase, “your own husbands,” is repeated throughout the New Testament (Ephesians 5:22; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:5). It is also important to recognize teaching that restricts the calling of a woman or man to the distinction between male and female only. Men and women are called to be hospitable. Women and men are called to work heartily unto the Lord. This isn’t to lessen the distinction. We aren’t “merely human.” Both male and female share dominion and are coheirs but each functions differently as woman or man within those roles. As Abigail Dodds puts it, “I was not made a human mainly, with a side of woman. I was made a woman as the expression of my humanity.”[3]

Some struggle with complementarianism convictions because they see them wrongly practiced. There are other areas of complementarianism wrongly taught but, understandably so, the biggest obstacle to embracing biblical manhood and womanhood is seeing complementarian convictions wrongly practiced. Domineering, controlling, and especially abusive male leadership is not a reflection of Christ nor of complementarian convictions. The biblical teachings regarding the complementary roles of men and women do not condone these types of behavior in any form or fashion. These types of behavior are shameful and sinful distortions of the role of men, and are sinful behaviors which complementarianism resolutely opposes. They are not representative of the complementarian position regarding the role of men. Kevin DeYoung summarizes it well, “The biblical pattern of male leadership is never an excuse for ignoring women, belittling women, overlooking the contributions of women, or abusing women in any way. The truest form of biblical complementarity calls on men to protect women, honor women, speak kindly and thoughtfully to women, and to find every appropriate way to learn from them and include them in life and ministry – in the home and in the church.”[4] Headship in the home or church taught by complementarianism does not mean that women must submit to oppression or abuse, rather it means they expose it as unbiblical.

Wrongly taught or wrongly practiced complementarianism distorts and channels masculinity inappropriately. Rightly taught and rightly practiced complementarianism models masculinity appropriately as it mirrors Christ who literally embodied what true manliness was meant to be. Men are to love, lead, sacrifice, and care for women as Christ did for the church. Like Christ, men are not to lead as a tyrant, nor are they to be weak and passive in their leadership. We can’t forget, however, that both male and female are called to Christlikeness. Biblical men and women exhibit this Christlikeness in different ways, each beautiful according to the way God has assigned his gifts. Faith, hope, and love in their expression may look different for a man than they do for a woman. Some of the differences reflect different life experiences. Some of the differences stem from the different commands and prescriptions given by God in Scripture. As Jonathan Leeman puts it, “God has established two different ways of being human, and they are both beautiful and good…The primary way a man acts like a biblical man is to obey everything the Bible says to everyone but also to men. And so with a biblical woman.”[5] Christlikeness is not androgynous. It has a distinct male and female “flavor” as designed by God. We are richer for the differences and learn more about the character of God across this beautiful diversity of his creation. We are poorer when we fall into the cultural definition of sameness across both male and female. May we all celebrate the uniqueness of God’s creation across the sexes.


[2] At this point, because of confusion in our culture, it must be noted that “men and women” are being used here in the biblical (Genesis 1:27), truthful, historical, obvious and logical meaning of the word, i.e., man – biological male, woman – biological female.

[3] “(A)typical Woman,” Abigail Dodds, p. 34

[4] “Men and Women in the Church,” Kevin DeYoung, p. 17.


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